March 4, 2009

California Assemblyman Wants Online Images of Certain Buildings Blurred

HIS OFFICIAL website says, "Joel Anderson stands up for our borders." Evidently one of the ways he proposes to do that is to have companies like Google blur images of schools, churches, government and medical buildings on applications like Google Earth in order to protect Californians against possible terrorist attacks.

A Republican from San Diego's 77th Assembly District, Mr. Anderson has introduced AB 255 which requires a fine of not less than $250,000 for each day an operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that utilizes a virtual globe browser, who makes aerial or satellite photographs or imagery of
selected images available to members of the public. Additionally, "an operator who is an executive officer or member of a board of directors who knowingly violates these provisions would also be subject to imprisonment in the state prison for one, 2, or 3 years.

Unfortunately, in checking Mr. Anderson's website for additional details on his proposed legislation, the site is absent such information. In fact, when you click on the site's "My Legislation link," the browser returns a message that says, "There are no data records to display." The "In The News Section" produces the same result. And I never did find anything about the bill.

According to the New York Times, the right to publish images taken in public places has generally been protected by American courts. And of course, many of the images that Mr. Anderson is seeking to protect are available elsewhere (government Internet sites, for instance).

Elsewhere, the Indian courts are considering a similar ban following reports that aerial imagery played a part in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

In thinking about all of this, security expert Bruce Schneier has questioned what else might be banned saying that terrorists have used boats and bottled water.

But seriously, what about the government's use of aerial imagery and the fact that some governmental Geographic Information Systems make these images available on the Internet? In the interests of fair play, shouldn't Assemblyman Anderson's bill ban public sector aerial images as well?

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